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Grateful Dead Logo

Grateful Dead Logo
Grateful Dead Logo PNG

The Grateful Dead began in the 1960s when psychedelic rock began to emerge in America. The performances of this group are recognized as a cult because the musicians were among the first to use vivid visual effects. They could be recognized by colorful posters and light shows, which went well with creative improvisation. Each live performance was unique, and thanks to two drummers at once (in 1967), the sound was surrounded. The lyrics were cynical, although the cultural backbone of the Grateful Dead is the hippie movement and everything associated with it. The style of musical compositions looked like a mixture of rock, country, blues, reggae, and jazz – in fact, jam rock.

Meaning and History

Grateful Dead Logo History
Evolution of the Grateful Dead Logo

In 1965, The Warlocks was formed in the United States. But it could not be called that because, at that time, there were other The Warlocks (now the Velvet Underground). Therefore, the creators decided to rename the team and, in order not to repeat themselves, chose a very unusual phrase: Grateful Dead. This is not just a play on words but a reflection of mystical stories from different cultures. According to legend, if a person buries a deceased, whom everyone refuses to bury, the deceased will help him. In this case, the dead becomes “grateful dead.”

The group approached the choice of the logo as creatively as the naming. She had a rich iconography with different symbols, but the Steal Your Face skull was always considered the main one. It appeared in 1969 and was used until the collapse of the collective in 1995.

Despite the frightening appearance of the emblem, there is nothing sinister about its history. The author of the design is Bob Thomas, who was hired to guard the warehouse. He knew the sound engineer of the Owsley “Bear” Stanley group, who rose to fame as one of the first mass producers of LSD. It was Owsley who asked him to come up with some symbol to make it easier to distinguish the musical equipment of the Grateful Dead behind the scenes.

The sound engineer already had some ideas. On the side of the road, he saw around orange and blue signs divided in two by a white stripe and decided to use that as a basis. Owsley wanted to repaint the orange half red and replace the crossline with a zigzag zipper. Bob Thomas made a stencil, after which Ernie Fischbach drew the design on the boxes. But after a few days, Owsley thought the symbol could be supplemented. He turned to Bob again for the help. In the course of discussions, the concept expanded: it was decided to add a skull, in which, according to Owsley, the group’s name is encrypted. It took Bob several hours to create the new stencil. It was this version that became the logo.

Grateful Dead Symbol

The symbol graced the front of the packaging for History of the Grateful Dead, Volume in 1972. Before that, it was used on the inside of the cover of another album, which was released in 1970. But at that time, the emblem was not in common use and did not have a name. The term Steal Your Face was taken from the song He’s Gone: the musicians recorded it to “glorify” the ex-manager who stole the money they earned from the Grateful Dead. And in 1976, the album Steal Your Face appeared – it was he who gave the logo such an unusual name.

Steal Your Face (abbreviated as Stealie) looks like a human skull with small eye sockets and a wide frontal bone. The top serves as the base for a red and blue circle with a diagonal white zipper. There is also a circle in the background, but the colors are reversed: the left half is blue, and the right half is red.

The logo has several meanings. According to one version, it symbolizes the “brain explosion” from listening to music. Others believe that thirteen lightning points represent the US colonies. Still, others are convinced that this is a reference to the thirteen stages of LSD preparation at the Owsley “Bear” Stanley chemical laboratory.

Font and Colors of the Emblem

Grateful Dead Emblem

The Grateful Dead logo has no lettering, and the color scheme is rather poor, albeit bright. It contrasts red and blue. White serves as their neutral “separator.” Owsley chose this palette during the concept development phase. He was inspired by a road sign he saw while driving from Oakland to Novato.